Straw moves to control animal rights activists

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The government is to seek new powers to prevent the "preposterous" and "terrible" activities of animal rights extremists who attack scientists working in animal testing, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday.

The government is to seek new powers to prevent the "preposterous" and "terrible" activities of animal rights extremists who attack scientists working in animal testing, the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday.

Concern about the safety of the researchers has been growing after attacks on the homes of employees of life sciences companies. Earlier this week, firebombers destroyed cars belonging to staff at a Cambridgeshire firm that uses animals in medical research.

Mr Straw said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme:"We are looking at whether there are changes in legislation we can take which are being sought by the police to see whether we can strengthen action against these animal rights extremists.

"The action they have been taking against employees and directors of life science companies has been absolutely preposterous. It is terrible what has happened to some of those employees.

"These are law-abiding people doing a job on behalf of the rest of us. It is worth bearing in mind that many of us would not be able to lead healthy lives were it not for the pharmaceutical companies being able to test their drugs on animals."

Robin Webb, spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front, said the Government had reneged on promises concerning animal rights issues. "When they came into power they promised a whole raft of changes on animal rights issues but nothing has changed."

Mr Webb said the proposals to strengthen police powers were unnecessary. "I really don't see how any further legislation can help. There are already laws in place such as those relating to criminal damage and harassment. The sentencing powers are also in place, so this seems completely over the top."

Earlier this week, a senior policeman described those responsible for firebomb attacks outside the homes of employees of Huntingdon Life Sciences as "urban terrorists". Chief Superintendent David Auton said the attacks marked a worrying extension of a campaign by animal rights protesters against the research firm, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

Mr Auton said he was worried that if such attacks continued, detectives may soon be launching murder investigations. In Godmanchester, near Huntingdon, attackers set five cars on fire with home-made petrol bombs. No one was hurt but two cars were destroyed and the others suffered extensive damage.

Last year, police reported 1,200 incidents involving animal rights activists, including six with explosives and eight arson attacks.

In March, a man was jailed for four months for threatening to kill an executive at the Huntingdon research laboratory during a demonstration.

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